Before opening the May 24 public meeting to discuss Starwood Capital’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the redevelopment of the 15.4-acre former United Hospital site, Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla referred to Port Chester as “the Brooklyn of Westchester County.”
By Tom McDermott
Before opening the May 24 public meeting to discuss Starwood Capital’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the redevelopment of the 15.4-acre former United Hospital site, Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla referred to Port Chester as “the Brooklyn of Westchester County.” Pilla believes that Starwood’s project, if approved, could be a gateway to complement the town’s waterside development.
The Starwood vision calls for 500 non-age-restricted and 230 age-restricted residential units; 90,000 square feet of restaurant-retail space; a 217,000 square-foot medical building; a 135-key limited service hotel, and 1,387 garage, surface, and metered street parking spaces. All of these will be built in stages with an entrance across Boston Post Road from the existing shopping center anchored by Kohl’s and Whole Foods.
Mayor Joe Sack and a steering committee from the Rye residential neighborhood nearest the proposed development – Hillside Road to High Street, Post Road to Ridge/Purchase streets, and encompassing Rye Country Day School – think that Starwood and Port Chester’s current plan will create a “parking lot” out of the Post Road, and cause construction vehicles and frustrated drivers to detour through the neighborhood. They believe that will create significant safety, health, and quality of life issues unless the current traffic plan is not significantly altered.
At the meeting, Sack stated, “I do not believe you can accept the FEIS in its current form; it is not adequate, we’re bringing in a lot more cars that have nowhere to go.” Additionally, he said the plan should not go forward until there was clarity from NYSDOT regarding the widening of the Post Road bridge over I-287, just south of the proposed entrance to the new development.
Richard Smith, of Evergreen Avenue, speaking for the steering committee, said that this had to be a win-win for Port Chester and its neighbors, reminding Pilla and village trustees that the neighborhood included taxpayers from both Rye and Port Chester. “Getting ahead on traffic is crucial. Our fate is in your hands for years and years,” Smith said.
Jonathan Peters, a longtime Rye resident, later added, “We applaud your hard work, and many of us were hopeful, but basically the consultant wants to widen a walkway and add a signal.”
The neighborhood supports the suggestions included in a report filed by Maser Consulting on behalf of Rye. Highlights of the Maser report call for the following adjustments to Starwood’s traffic and fair-share contribution plan to mitigate potential traffic hotspots in Rye: the Starwood contribution should be raised to $100,000 from $22,500 for mitigation and a roundabout for the Ridge/Purchase streets, Wappanocca Avenue, Hillside Road, with plan improvements; the applicant should be required to construct a separate right-hand turn lane at the Midland/Peck avenues intersection to mitigate added volume and the contribution raised to $150,000 from $34,500.
The Maser report also calls for widening of the I-287 bridge and questions some of Starwood’s and its consultant’s methods of counting traffic and cost estimates.
Carlito Holt, addressing traffic concerns on behalf of Starwood, told Port Chester trustees that islands in the Post Road will improve traffic flow, as will the removal of a signal on the northbound side. He said that a peak-hours railroad station jitney would alleviate traffic and underscored that there would be a post-implementation study to review traffic impact. Both Sack and Mr. Smith thought that would be too late to make meaningful improvements.
Traffic was not the only thing on the minds of other attendees.
Bill Mooney of the Westchester County Association applauded the project as “a breakthrough” creating 1,800 construction and 1,000 permanent jobs. Richard Hyman, representing Port Chester for Affordable Housing, and Rev. Bruce Baker countered by asking why the project wasn’t replacing the affordable housing units being vacated at 999 High Street. Baker wanted “20% of housing in the project to be set aside as affordable housing.”
Audrey Moore praised Starwood and its 999 High Street relocation manager Lou Larizza, a local developer, for helping building residents relocate.
One late speaker, taking Mayor Sack to task, reminded trustees of Rye’s “Chicken Little” talk, around the time of the Home Depot project. “They said it would be a disaster back then, and it wasn’t.”
Sack, speaking to the paper, responded that the Home Depot project’s scale was small – a single big box store – compared to Starwood’s significantly more ambitious residential, commercial center.
On June 3, NYSDOT which, according to Rye City Manager Marcus Serrano, has final authority on the project’s traffic proposals. “We are anxiously awaiting their opinion,” said Serrano.